The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has welcomed the free trade agreement signed between the EU and Japan this morning, July 6.

Speaking to RTE Radio 1’s ‘Morning Ireland’, IFA President Joe Healy said the tariff-free trade deal would initially boost Irish beef exports to Japan by an estimated 20,000t per year.

Japan only re-opened its market to Irish beef four years ago following a ban that spanned over a decade in response to the BSE disease outbreak in 2000.

Although Healy said the trade agreement was “a bit of hope in the context of Brexit”, he highlighted that it would not be a substitute for free access to the British market.

He told ‘Morning Ireland’: “When you do compare that to the 270,000t of beef that we put into the UK, it looks fairly small fry but in essence, it’s welcome. Japan was a very protected market and we would welcome the drop in the tariffs as a farm organisation.”

The Japanese beef market is estimated to be worth around €15 million a year to Irish exporters, according to figures from Bord Bia. By comparison, beef exports to Britain are valued at €1.2 billion this year.

Healy said that Irish products have a high reputation around the world and that this will help with growing the opportunities in Japan. However, Irish beef farmers face stiff competition from US and Australian exporters, who hold the “key market share there at the moment”.

Outlining the details of the free trade agreement, Healy explained that tariffs on EU goods to Japan will be slashed from 38% to 27.5% in the short-term. Over a 15-year period however, this will reduce to just 9%.

Healy also appeased concerns that Japan will impose different food standards on Irish products to the current rules under the EU. He said: “The standards imposed on Irish food under the EU are of the highest order.

One thing that we don’t really need to fear is high standards being put in place on our food production because we’re already there.

The IFA President noted that while the trade agreement is a shot in the arm for Irish beef farmers, there are not “huge opportunities” for the dairy sector at the moment.

Still, Healy agreed the deal is a good first step in addressing the challenges of Brexit for Irish farmers, pointing out that efforts are being made to market Irish food products in up to 180 countries.

He said: “The reputation of Irish food is very good so, with the more access we can get into any of those markets, we’re confident that we’ll hold those markets.”